**** out of *****
(Editors Note: We here at RtBE normally don't cover mainstream pop, but with the year in review coming soon, we wanted to dig into some of the more critically acclaimed pop albums of 2016. So welcome to Pop Week on RtBE.)
The breakup album that set the twitterverse ablaze in 2016 contains the most impassioned singing of Beyonce's career because she is very clearly dealing with some powerful emotions; it also happens to be her strongest album to date. While there have been other albums that have played out on social media, the shocking aspect to Lemonade was the surprise it took everyone by when it came out and was so open or at least appeared to be (from Beyonce's side at least) about the highest profile musical relationship on the planet.
Packed with samples, long lists of songwriters and producers (15 writers on "Hold Up"?!?!) this isn't a solo album so to speak, but the energy and passion come from the biggest pop superstar on the planet going scorned-lover-ballistic. Opening with the breezy calm-before-the-storm of "Pray For Me" the energy is only hinted at, then the anger of "Hold Up" flows out and the cheater in her sites gets his. There is always a tendency to read into artists lyrics as being personal, but this one takes the cake for directness as Beyonce isn't writing too many similes. Sure, it is only her side of the story, but with the passion flowing this electric, is another side needed?
While the anger is there, a song like "Hold Up" suffers from 2016 hip-hop/R&B restraint; if ever there was a time for a Rick Rubin beat, this was it. While samples and lyrics contributed by everyone from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Souljah Boy to Andy Williams flowing out, the musical power is lacking on "Hold Up", which should be a showstopper. Instead that comes via the next track when Jack White gets involved for "Don't Hurt Yourself" and Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks" booms. While the mega hip-hop-blues-rock is magnetic, it is Beyonce's killer line of "Watch my fat ass twist, boy/As I bounce to the next dick, boy" that is the real metal moment; she has never been more palpable, real and electric on a record.
Beyonce's rage reaches a climax on "Sorry" and "6 Inch" as regret takes a back seat to out and out destruction. The first moves into turn about is fair play realm via "Middle Fingers up/Put Them Hands High/Wave It In His Face/Tell'em Boy Bye" while the second takes on the pure lust as she turns on her sultriest vocals on the album. This run of songs is staggering as Beyonce is firing on all of her cylinders.
"Daddy Lessons" is a musical detour down to New Orleans and Texas as Beyonce equates her paternal relationships with her current one, adding depth and background to the situation. It is a definite switch both musically (bordering on country) and lyrically with its storybook telling. This is new ground for Beyonce and a possible window into her genre hopping future.
The second half of the album is not as successful as most of the fiery rage has been extinguished and Knowles grapples with the forgiveness part of keeping the relationship intact (not an easy task). The weakest track is the dull R&B of "Love Drought" as Bey is at a crossroads, and not the Robert Johnson kind. She goes the ballad route with "Sandcastles" and does a passionate vocal job of reveling in the falsehood of promises, beginning a segue session that sees a transient James Blake moving "Forward" into a propulsive "Freedom" that Kendrick Lamar helps try to help exclaim, but there is not full on acceptance.
Knowles addresses this in the finale of "All Night" in which she honestly claims it is going to take some time to get back to rubbing up on her philandering lover while the sample of the fantastic horns from "Spottieottiedopaliscious" ring out and get interrupted as strings as well. The odd encore of "Formation" founds Beyonce still moving into the future with a hopefully repaired relationship and fiercer outlook on life.
While "realness" is an issue Beyonce will continue to grapple with, she has clearly made the Blood On The Tracks for the millennial generation. Where Dylan ended things behind the scenes, Knowles decided to patch things up in her high profile relationship, an interesting twist for a generation that seems to overshare. Since the release Beyonce's details have stayed hidden, until her next album perhaps?
(This review is of the musical album Lemonade, not the "visual album")
Color me semi-surprised, this is a very good to great album. Support the artist, buy the album, peep some video below: